April 20, 2019

Saturn's rings are younger than the planet itself

21 January 2019, 11:29 | Edward Lowe

Saturn's rings are younger than the planet itself

Saturn Spent Billions of Years Without Its Rings

These internal oscillations cause the density at any particular place within the planet to fluctuate, which makes the gravitational field outside the planet oscillate at the same frequencies. The rings detect those movements in the field, according to the research.

Steve Miller, from University College London, U.K., said the findings reinforce the idea that we are living in "lucky times" by existing at the same time as the rings. "At specific locations in the rings these oscillations catch ring particles at just the right time in their orbits to gradually build up energy, and that energy gets carried away as an observable wave". There has always been a debate about the age of Saturn's rings. That, in fact, allowed him to track the movements of Saturn's interiors, and its rotation.

They had the remote-sensing measurements from NASA's Cassini and both of Voyager spacecraft.

These challenges left scientists with rough estimates falling between 10 hours, 36 minutes and 10 hours, 48 minutes - not particularly satisfying.

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Scientists can also typically use the tilt of a planet's magnetic field to measure its day length. The magnetic axis of Jupiter, just like Earth's, is not aligned with its rotational axis. So it swings around as the planet rotates, enabling scientists to measure a periodic signal in radio waves to get the rotation rate. Imagine a set of nested cylinders, rotating at different speeds. Saturn is also unusual in having its magnetic axis almost perfectly aligned with its rotational axis.

With Saturn clocking in at around 4.5 billion years old, it means the giant planet may have been without its distinctive halo for much of its life.

The findings from Cassini's Radio Science Subsystem have also answered one other long-standing question about Saturn: the age of its rings. And it's a really solid result. "The rings held the answer".

Scientists identified a reflective feature near Titan's north pole on an image taken June 7, 2016, by Cassini's near-infrared instrument, the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer. This research was supported by NASA and the University of California. This orbital configuration allowed the disentanglement of the tiny acceleration of the rings from the large acceleration due to Saturn.

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Before the Cassini mission, it was impossible to distinguish the gravitational effect of the rings from the main body of the planet.

The global Cassini spacecraft has captured an image that shows the rainfall on the north pole of Titan, the largest of Saturn's moons. This observation may help scientists gain a more complete understanding of Titan's seasons.

In September 2017, as Cassini conducted its final flybys and plunged into Saturn's atmosphere, the probe's trajectory was influenced by the gravitational pull of Saturn's rings.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech. The radio science instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the USA and Italy.

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"Perhaps a big collision formed the rings around the age of the dinosaurs, but for me, the real surprise was the interior structure", Iess told Ryan F. Mandelbaum at Gizmodo.

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